ALMANAC-December 2018

By Ash Alder

It’s been a while since you’ve come to visit, and when you see her, you gasp.

She looks different. And not just the kind of different one looks from the passing of an ordinary spring, summer and fall.

She has stories.

In the sweeping meadow, the weeping cherry is the axis about which all of life revolves. It’s always been this way, at least for as long as you have known her. Which is why you’re so shaken to discover the woodpecker drillings along her trunk and branches.

Signs of decay.

As you sit beneath her trunk, comforted by her silhouette in purple twilight, three, four, five white-tailed deer slip through the longleaf veil in the distance. Either they do not see you, or they recognize you as one of their own.

Six deer.


You watch them graze in the meadow — just feet away now — and as the last doe brushes past, you exhale a silent prayer.

Grace is here.

You place your hands on the weeping cherry’s trunk, honoring this perfect moment, this bare-branched season, the vibrancy among decay. 

It’s time to go home now. It won’t be the same. But there are stories to share. And grace.

Spirit of the Deer

As a child, Christmas Eves were spent at my grandparents’ house, where all the cousins hoped to be the first to spot the shiny pickle ornament Papa had hidden in the tree. After evening Mass, then dinner, where soft butter rolls, pumpkin bars and scalloped potatoes were first to vanish from the spread, gifts were exchanged. Whoever found the pickle got theirs first.

And then, the hour drive home.

“Watch for deer,” Papa would say before
we left.

We always saw them, frozen in the headlights on the roadside.

Three, four, five . . . six deer, seven.

I counted until drifting off to sleep.

Many ancient cultures believe that when an animal crosses your path, its spirit has a special “medicine” for you. The deer is a messenger of gentleness and serenity.

If you happen to see one in the thicket of holiday hustle and bustle, even if it’s the one you recall snacking on your hosta and pansies last spring, consider the ways you can bring more grace and kindness to yourself and the world.

Comet and Cupid

According to National Geographic’s Top 8 Must-See Sky Events for 2018, the comet eloquently named 46P/Wirtanen will travel past the luminous Pleiades and Hyades star clusters as it makes its closest approach to the Earth on Sunday, December 16 — the comet’s brightest-ever predicted passage.

Whether or not you catch the celestial show, don’t miss the chance to celebrate the “rebirth of the Sun” on Friday, December 21 — the day before the full cold moon. Call it winter solstice, Yule or midwinter, the longest night of the year is a time for gathering . . . and ritual.

In Japan, it’s tradition to take a dip in the yuzu tub, a hot bath filled with floating yellow yuzu fruit, to ward off the common cold.

Not a bad way to welcome winter.

Or around a fire with dearest friends, sharing stories and cider beneath the near-full moon.

The simplicity of winter has a deep moral.
The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.

– John Burroughs, The Snow-Walkers, 1866

In the Garden this Month

Rake fallen leaves for compost.

Plant hardy annuals (snapdragon, petunia, viola).

Take root cuttings from cold-sensitive perennials and plant them indoors.

Order fruit trees and grape vines for late-winter planting.

Dream up, then plan for your spring garden. 

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